September 21, 2018
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How one Maine man’s battle with opioids led him to the ‘structure’ of a sober home

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Cody Lemieux sits on the edge of his bed at Journey House, a sober home in Lewiston. Lemieux is struggling to free himself from heroin.
By Jake Bleiberg, BDN Staff
Updated:

Cody Lemieux is looking for help from above.

Every morning before leaving his shared room, he prays to God for support in the battle with addiction that’s tattered his life and cost him custody of his children. He also gets more worldly aid from out of a locked safe upstairs.

Lemieux, 29, is one of hundreds of Mainers who pay rent each month at a sober-living home.

As the state has sunk deeper into the opioid crisis, scores of these home have sprung up to try to meet people’s desperate need for housing and help fighting their deadly disease. The industry is unregulated, and advocates worry about the potential for abuse in a market where people’s desperation to stay sober can be turned to profit.

But for many struggling with addiction, a sober house, like the one tucked back on a Lewiston side street where Lemieux lives, is one of the only things buffering them from homelessness and relapse.

“I needed the structure,” Lemieux said. “I’ve tried the sober thing a couple times by myself.”

Although it’s in sight of the looming Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the Lewiston sober home doesn’t require its residents to recognize a higher power — the second of Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12 steps.

One of three sober homes known as Journey Houses, Lemieux’s new home does not operate under an AA or religious model. Rather, it lets people take varied paths to recovery and touts an “evidence-based” approach to helping people with addiction.

This includes support for medication-assisted treatment, something accepted by only a few Maine sober homes and treated with deep suspicion by some schools of recovery.

That’s the help Lemieux gets from the safe upstairs. He’s on Suboxone — a prescription medication that suppresses opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Narcotics Anonymous welcome and 30-day-sober key tags sit on Cody Lemieux's nightstand Journey House, a sober home in Lewiston. Lemieux is struggling to free himself from heroin.

A native of the Lewiston area, Lemieux said that before he entered rehab at the St. Francis Recovery Center in Auburn, he wasn’t using the medication correctly. Now, the house manager gives him his dose every morning.

“It keeps you accountable,” he said. “That’s what this whole place does.”

The squat, white house opened in May and is believed to be the first recovery residence in Maine’s second largest city.

His mother found it on Facebook, Lemieux said, after months of searching for sober living options in the area. He left a rehabilitation program in June and moved in with $500 from a friend for the first month’s rent.

On a rainy summer Saturday, he leaned against a bed in the room he shares with his “running buddy” from a recent past filled with heroin and “benzos.” The pair work out together. They share the weights tucked into one corner. But Lemieux said the Holy Bible on the bedside table is his alone.

Prayer is new for Lemieux. He said he grew up in a religious family but was never much for church. And the strict house rules, including a curfew for new residents, are taking some getting used to.

But with two young daughters currently in state care, Lemieux is looking to do things differently.

He hopes his time in sober living will be a bridge to making a new home for the little girls.

“I struggled with it at first,” he said. “But I’m trying to do the opposite of what I was doing before. Before there was no chance of me getting on my knees for anything.”

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